Twentieth Century Fox
2 hours, 2 minutes
The “Alien” franchise created by Ridley Scott and co. back in 1979 has certainly come a long way. That initial foray into sci-fi horror has spawned five sequels/prequels and at least two spin-off films that merge the creature with another sci-fi franchise, “Predator.” The last two films in the series, “Prometheus” and this week’s “Covenant” have been pretty heavily criticized by the “true” fans, and I agree these films are flawed, but I take a little different tack. For “Prometheus” at least, the complaint was that there wasn’t enough Alien in what was purported to be an “Alien” movie.
Scott and co. took that complaint to heart and doubled down on the Alien in “Covenant,” but I wish they’d gone a different direction. For me, there’s too much Alien in these “Alien” movies.
“Covenant” begins some ten years after the events of “Prometheus.” The massive colony ship of the same name is on a multi-decade journey to a new solar system where a habitable planet awaits. A small crew is in charge of taking 2,000 souls to a new world.
For most of the trip, the ship is quiet, all on board deep in cryo-sleep, save Walter, the humanoid android assistant. Walter, played by Michael Fassbender, is a newer model of the same android, David, who caused all that trouble in “Prometheus.” Along the way a random accident causes a minor disaster that precipitates the waking of the crew nearly a decade early.
While doing repairs, pilot Tennessee, played by Danny McBride, catches a random signal on his helmet that, though full of static, he recognizes as the song “Country Roads” by John Denver. Following the signal, the ship discovers another potentially habitable planet much, much closer. Under the direction of the new captain, played by Billy Crudup, a religious man who must believe in the importance of highly unlikely coincidences, the crew diverts to this new planet where only good things await.
Not really. This is an “Alien” movie, so only horrible death awaits.
Despite the fact that I have a lot of problems with this film, I should say that I basically enjoyed it. The problem is that the stuff I liked from “Prometheus” are not really what the public liked, so “Covenant” pivots pretty significantly back to a horror movie, away from the “big idea” sci-fi that I was looking for.
If you missed “Prometheus,” the basic premise is that alien “Engineers” seeded our planet (as well as others, potentially) with life millions of years ago, giving rise to our species. When we finally get the ability to travel to the stars, a group of scientists figure out a clue that seems to have been left by the Engineers, calling us to find them. That’s what “Prometheus” is about.
Unfortunately, when we find them, they’re all dead, accidentally killed by their own biological weapon (Alien, anyone) that they were prepping to send to Earth to kill us. So there’s a lot of “man seeking his creator” themes that run through these later films, with parallel story lines about David, and now Walter, and their dissatisfaction with their own lot in life, with their own creators – namely us.
That’s the stuff I liked. The “Alien” stuff really felt shoe-horned in and unnecessary. As I said, “Covenant” doubles down on the horror and dispenses with the Engineers, leaving them as little more than production design. I guess what I want is smart sci-fi, and while these movies are grand in scope, they are not smart. Scott is obviously leaning heavily into the “fiction” part of sci-fi.
I could go on all week about the senseless plot points, but just to mention of few of the elements that annoyed me:
1.) If “Prometheus” represented the pinnacle of human achievement – the ability to fly to another star, a project that cost trillions and took years to undertake, how are we sending another ship, much, much larger, to a vastly farther star, to a planet that’s apparently been fully surveyed, only ten years later? They would have had to been planning this mission before Prometheus ever left. Human achievement is fast, but not that fast.
2.) None of the scientists in these films ever act like scientists. They know almost nothing about the planet they decide to divert to other than that it’s in the “Habitable” zone. And yet, they land and hop out of their space ship, no helmets or suits, wading through a shallow lake to get to land. How do they know there aren’t either monsters or microbes in the water? How do they know the ph of the lake isn’t off enough to melt them when the step in? Haven’t any of them read H.G. Wells? What happened to the Martians who tried to invade Earth?
3.) Finally, to that point, haven’t any of these people ever seen a movie or read a book? I’ll just say this, when the creepy guy in the hood tells you to look into the huge egg pod that has squishily opened up in front of you, run the other way! I don’t mind scares or horror, but I’d like the characters to act at least slightly believably. The characters in this film act and speak purely to drive the plot forward. That rarely makes for a good movie.
“Covenant” is not a horrible movie, and does have some good moments. I thought the ending was creepy, despite the fact that it was telegraphed ten miles out. My buddy laughed out loud, but he’s on record as hating these latest “Alien” efforts, so he was never on board.
That said, I don’t know why Ridley Scott couldn’t have told this story with an original plotline and made the horror more existential and less blood spattered. I guess we have to judge the movie that we have instead of the movie we wanted, and as such, “Covenant” is a bit of a bust. I can always hope that the next installment will fix the problems of this one, but I’m guessing it’ll be more of the same.
“Alien: Covenant” is rated R for gruesome violence, language, brief nudity and brief sexuality.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.